Encouraging Empathy and Generosity through “Those Shoes”
During times like these, many of us are looking for ways to raise children that will be forces for change in this world. We are looking to facilitate conversations about empathy, compassion and generosity. The thing about empathy and generosity, though, is that it can be a challenging topic to teach, particularly to young children. Children are naturally apt to focus on themselves and their desires. Their still egocentric view of the world means their perception centers around what they see as being the most obvious. So how do we reinforce these ideals in such challenging times? In Those Shoes, author Maribeth Boelts tries to do just that through the story of a boy named Jeremy who would do anything to have the “cool” shoes that everyone in school seems to have. In the end, Jeremy realizes that he genuinely has everything he needs, and it’s worth much more than what he wants.
We chatted with Maribeth about her inspiration for the book and her hopes for the children that embrace it.
Let’s hear from the author…
Maribeth Boelts has been writing for over 25 years with over 30 children’s books to show for it. Maribeth shared with us her inspiration for writing the book “Those Shoes” and the lessons she hopes readers will walk away with.
What was the inspiration for “Those Shoes”?
The idea for “Those Shoes” came from three different memories. When I was in 6th grade, I wanted a pair of blue Adidas that were very popular with both the boys and girls in my school. They were out of reach financially for my parents, which made me feel out of step with the other kids, particularly as more and more showed up to school wearing “Those Shoes.”
In college, while student teaching, I saw a 4th-grade boy wearing a pair of old shoes that fell apart at recess. The teacher sent him to the guidance counselor to get a pair to wear for the day. The boy returned wearing a pair of black, slip-on dress shoes, and many of the students laughed at him. I remember feeling instant empathy with the boy, recalling my own experience of being left out.
Then finally, I helped organize a clothes closet at a school in my community. One day, a boy came to school wearing water shoes that were two sizes too small. I happened to have a new pair of sneakers in the clothes closet, and they were his size. I’ve never forgotten the smile on his face and the lift to his step as he walked back to the classroom in his new shoes.
Taking these three memories into account, I knew I had to write a story about a boy who wants a pair of “in” shoes. I could rely on memory for the feelings and imagination to fill in the details of the plot and characterization.
What do you hope kids take away from this book?
One of my biggest hopes for this story in terms of the take-away is that being generous and sharing can make a person deep-down happy in a way that a material object will never succeed in doing. Another important theme in the story is friendship. It’s interesting to me how even the youngest readers can recognize the qualities in both Antonio and Jeremy that would make their friendship real and lasting.